"Systemic Sexual Abuse in Texas"

An interview with Teddy Wilson about the rampant grooming and sexual abuse of children by the Christian right

"Systemic Sexual Abuse in Texas"

“If you are actually serious about protecting children from sexual predators that engage in grooming, shouldn’t your focus be on the institutions that have a documented history of enabling the systemic sexual abuse of children?” asks Teddy Wilson in response to one of my questions in the Q&A that’s posted below.

Wilson’s question gets to the heart of multiple articles I’ve published here on Substack (I’ll post links at the foot of this one).

I was prompted to revisit the topic after seeing Wilson’s recent Twitter thread documenting what’s been happening under Governor Greg “I will eliminate all rapists” Abbott’s nose in these past few months.

Here’s the first tweet in that thread:

I reached out to Teddy Wilson, who tweets at @reportbywilson and is the publisher of Radical Reports on Substack, to find out more about what he’s documented in terms of the actual child sexual abuse by the “Christian” right—and the ways it contrasts with the sensationalist “groomer” rhetoric by the hypocrites and charlatans of the Ultra-MAGA wing of the GOP.

Q & A with Teddy Wilson

What prompted you to write your recent 15-tweet thread focused on the sexual abuse of children by pastors and staffers at Christian churches in Texas?

The LGBTIQ community has been the target of an ongoing campaign by the far right and right-wing media, which has sought to portray the LGBTIQ community, transgender people in particular, as a danger to children. From advocating for laws that restrict access to public restrooms of transgender youth or criminalize parents and medical professionals for providing gender affirming care — the targeting of drag shows is just the latest tactic employed by the far right to perpetuate the narrative that the LGBTIQ community is a threat to children.

The far right’s weaponization of the term “groomer” is a deliberate attempt to reinforce the narrative that it is dangerous to expose children to anything related to the LGBTIQ community.

When I wrote the Twitter thread, I posed a simple question: If you are actually serious about protecting children from sexual predators that engage in grooming, shouldn’t your focus be on the institutions that have a documented history of enabling the systemic sexual abuse of children? The primary example of such an institution would be the Christian Church, however, there are several other examples of institutional failures regarding the sexual abuse of children including both public and private schools, children’s daycare centers, and youth sports.

Texas is arguably on the leading edge of the attacks on the LGBTIQ community from Republican state lawmakers, right-wing advocacy organizations, and far-right extremists, and therefore it seemed appropriate to focus on the documented cases in the state of alleged sexual abuse by pastors and church staff. Also, focusing on those individuals that have been arrested, charged, or convicted within the past year removes the ability to dismiss allegations as unproven or uncorroborated, and illustrates that this type of sexual abuse in churches in Texas is an ongoing systemic problem.

Among the most typical responses to the thread from conservatives Christians is the claim the arrests and prosecutions prove the Christian Church is serious about accountability for those who commit acts of sexual abuse, however, this completely ignores that there are documented cases of Christian churches covering up sexual abuse, gaslighting and blaming the victims of sexual abuse, or enabling the abuse to continue. In fact, in many of the cases cited in the thread of those arrested, charged, and convicted, the perpetrators were brought to justice with limited cooperation from the churches, and in some cases the churches actively worked to prevent the exposure of the abuse.

Is what you saw in Texas also playing out in other states?

The sexual abuse of children in Christian churches is not isolated to any state, but it is documented throughout the country and throughout the world. Also, the sexual abuse of children in Christian churches is not unique to any particular denomination or theology. The general public may be the most familiar with the sexual abuse with the Catholic Church, and now there is a growing awareness of the sexual abuse within the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. However, there are documented cases of sexual abuse in every Christian denomination, and there is been a growing number of personal accounts of those who have experience abuse within the Church through the #ChurchToo movement.

Why do you think the mainstream media are more likely to amplify fake accusations about Drag Queens and teachers by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene than they are to expose what's actually happening to children at the mercy of abusive “Christians”?

There are a few factors that contribute to the mainstream media amplification of far right narratives, including the specious claims about drag shows and the LGBTIQ community more generally made by prominent Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures. While conservatives have long accused the mainstream media of having a liberal bias, if mainstream media has any bias it is towards sensationalism and controversy. Also, the mainstream media has often sought to counter the claims of liberal bias through “balanced” coverage of each issue, and presenting every point of view or argument as equally valid—regardless of the factual basis.

The sexual abuse that is endemic within the Christian Church is typically viewed as a local story, and may be covered by the local newspaper or television news, however, these stories are rarely picked up by the national media. There are exceptions, such as the investigation by the Houston Chronicle into sexual abuse allegations with the Southern Baptist Convention or the Associated Press into the coverup of sexual abuse within the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Why do you think far-right extremists, QAnon conspirators, Fox News presenters and Republican politicians are so unwilling to accept the facts about—or to discuss the actual arrests and convictions of—all these #RepublicanSexualPredators?

Far right extremists and conspiracy theorists will reject or ignore anything that conflicts with their worldview, and right-wing media personalities and Republican lawmakers will generally minimize or dismiss the premise of anything that is politically inconvenient. In fact, there’s a significant amount of social science research that demonstrates that when people who believe in conspiracy theories or other factually inaccurate beliefs are confronted with information that directly refutes or disproves those ideas, people will actually harden their beliefs.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s no evidence that people are more likely to commit various types of sexual abuse based on their religious beliefs, political ideology, or partisan affiliation. However, there is evidence that a person’s religious beliefs, political ideology, or partisan affiliation may affect whether or not they believe reports of sexual abuse.

As I mentioned earlier, when allegations of sexual abuse within the Christian Church do receive national media coverage, it is typically within the context of investigations that reveal systemic failures within a denomination or other religious institution. When a pastor of a Baptist church or a youth leader of a Church of Christ is arrested and charged for sexual abuse, it is often portrayed by conservative Christians as an outlier within the Christian Church. Oftentimes perpetrators will be dismissed as not “real Christians,” in an attempt to absolve the larger Christian community of any responsibility.

I've written before about RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel’s embrace of child predators. Do you think the GOP’s tolerance for sexual predators in general and child sex predators in particular has increased in the age of Trump?

I think what we are witnessing during the age of Trump is a dramatic increase in tolerance for all types of unethical, immoral, and even criminal behavior within the Republican Party.

What other areas of concern is Radical Reports focused on heading into 2023?

The evidence suggests that in 2023, we should expect to see far right extremists continue to organize and mobilize, and that it’s highly likely we will see additional violent attacks on marginalized communities. It remains critical to document the activities of the far right, and attempt to understand the movement’s changing strategies and tactics.

In the coming year, Radical Reports will continue to focus on reporting on the various elements of the U.S. Radical Right, and planning several projects that should serve as resources for journalists, academics, and activists. These project include the completion of the Capitol Riot Map through the incorporation of the research and data included in the upcoming report expected to be published by the January 6th Committee, and the launching of a mapping and database project to create a research resource that provides a comprehensive of picture of the various sectors of the Radical Right.

Teddy Wilson is an investigative journalist and researcher with more than a decade of experience reporting on the Radical Right, with a focus on the U.S. Christian Right, the anti-abortion movement, and other far-right extremist groups. Previously, Wilson was the U.S. Investigation Editor at openDemocracy, Research Analyst at Political Research Associates, and Staff Reporter at Rewire News Group.

Follow him on Twitter at: @reportbywilson.

Subscribe to: Radical Reports on Substack.

Support Teddy Wilson on Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/reportbywilson.

Further reading here on Unprecedented:

Republican Rapists in South Dakota (11/20/2022)

#RepublicanSexualPredators (9/6/2022)

The Rapist’s Best Friend (7/15/2022)

Who’s Really “Soft on Pedos”? (4/5/2022)

700 and Counting (12/12/2021)

Save the Children. From the GOP. (8/12/2021)

GOP: Gang of Pedophiles (5/10/2021)

The Apprentice (4/2/2021)

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